I am almost ashamed to say that it took me nearly six months of living in Jeonju to finally check out one of the city’s most famous establishments — Gogung — which serves up some of the best bibimbap in the region. Bibimbap — literally meaning mixed (bibim 비빔) rice (bap 밥) is the dish that puts Jeonju on the map. The city is known for serving “Jeonju bibimbap,” which could have up to twenty ingredients.
In every bowl, you will find a base of rice, a variety of vegetables, chili pepper paste, salted seaweed and an egg (traditionally raw). I prefer a dish called dolsot bibimbap 돌솥 비빔밥, which means that the mixture comes in a hot stone bowl. The rice and veggies are sizzling when it arrives at your table, and it forms a nice crust along the edges of the rice. Nom nom nom. Plus, I don’t have to worry about eating raw egg since the bowl cooks it thoroughly. Win-win!
The dish usually comes looking like a perfectly balanced rainbow — you almost don’t want to mash it all together and ruin the picture! However, by the time I received my meal at said restaurant, I was so hungry that I wasted no time digging in.
At the restaurant, three of us ordered servings of dolsot bibimbap, which came with beef, while Rachel opted for traditional vegetarian bibimbap. We also had a few bottles of soju at home beforehand, so we were feeling rather giddy during our delicious dinner!
The meal came equipped with a variety of banchan (side dishes — they come with every meal), including kimchi, eggplant cooked with egg, a sort of potato soup, green beans in hot pepper paste, a sort of blanched greens and sesame spinach (one of my personal favorites — we get this at school often).
The food was excellent. It was salty, spicy, fresh, and sizzling hot — everything I want in a dinner! The rice was on the pricey side — about 9,000 won — and I figure we were paying a price for the restaurant’s notoriety. I wouldn’t be surprised if I found a cheaper dish that was just as good at a local hole-in-the-wall, but for now this remains the best bibimbap I’ve had since I came to Korea.
Oh and if you hadn’t noticed, I have been practicing my hangul 한글, the letters to the Korean alphabet! The writing system was devised in the 15th century, and is considered the easiest to adopt of all Asian writing systems. There are 24 letters, and the characters are relatively simple once you get the hang of them. I struggle a bit with some vowel combinations, but I continue to study my trusty flashcards.
When I walk outside, I pause and try to phonetically sound out every sign I see. I imagine this is what a kid feels like when they’re learning to read — slowly going over each sound in your head, excited and proud to be able to spell it out, regardless of whether you know what it means or not. I’m learning guys! :)